The Ends of the World

There’s a vast sea in eastern California. Not of water but of desert. Death Valley, the lowest elevation point in North America, is another world entirely. The vast landscape broken up by mountains is not only remote but also defined by its incredibly low elevation.

Some destinations are at the heart of civilizations, whose charm comes from the bustle and constant change such as Paris or New York. Some places, like Death Valley, are fascinating for being maybe not the opposite but being remote and being away from it all.


Northernmost City in the US

About 4,500 people consider Barrow, Alaska, home. Considering this is the northernmost settlement in North America, sitting within the Arctic Circle, there’s a strong cultural aspect to the city. The Inupiat Eskimo have been settled there for over 1000 years; but Barrow is also home to Americans, Filipinos and other ethnicities. From Barrow, you can take tours to Point Barrow, the northernmost destination in Northern America, such as those offered by the Top of the World Hotel. If you’re there during the winter, make sure to step outside (or look outside) at night to witness the amazing Aurora Borealis.


Southern Most City in the World

Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel (Photo: Remi Jouan)

Three different cities claim to be the southernmost city in the world, all located in South America. Of the 3, Puerto Williams in Chile is actually the most southern. But it is also much smaller, home to under 3,000 people. The other two cities are Punta Arenas, also in Chile, and Ushuaia in Argentina. From Ushuaia, take the End of the World train to the Tierra Del Fuego National Park facing Antarctica. You won’t be alone though. At the end of the world here, you’ll see a series of ponds created by beavers. If you can, climb to the top of the Cerro Guanaco for a great view or walk the 800-meter De La Isla path along the waters.


Wettest Place on Earth

Tutunendo in Colombia is among a few destinations in the world vying for title of Wettest Place on Earth. In Western Colombia, near the Pacific Ocean, Tutunendo is covered by constant clouds and experiences on average 354 inches of rain a year. If you visit, you’ll find incredibly lush jungles covering much of the region around Tutenendo.


Designated Dark Sky Places

Sark Island (Courtesy Sark Tourism Office)

Ever wonder where those pictures are taken of the Milky Way and where every star is as clear as flecks of paint on a canvas? Thanks to designated dark sky places across the world, wonder no more. One such place is the Isle of Sark in the UK. A small island in the English Channel off the coast of Normandy, there is so little light pollution that the island gained their status in 2011. Helping its status is the fact that there is no public lighting and cars are banned. Naked-eye astronomy has never been better.


The World’s Hottest Place

Death Valley’s Badwater Basin (Photo: Photographersnature)

The lowest point in North America is the Badwater Basin. One of the largest parks in the United States, Death Valley, home to Badwater Basin, is a world unto itself. A vast desert that most people think of as a wasteland, Death Valley is an ecological wonder, home to many species of animals, most notably the Bighorn Sheep. Visit the Artist’s Drive where you’ll see a rainbow of colors across the rocks caused by the oxidation of different minerals. In the spring, parts of the park come alive with desert wildflowers.


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5 Places to Go If You Love Mexico

Mexico holds a special place for anyone who’s made the trek south of the border. There’s the history, pre-Colombian and post, the beautiful beaches and the natural wonders. There’s the food, the all-inclusive resorts, and, always a factor for vacation, the affordability. Mexico does not, however, hold a monopoly on these features and, if you’re looking for something just a little different, here are 5 fantastic alternatives that will make you want to quit your job and stay.

The Ruins: Belize

Temple in Plaza A in Caracol, Belize (Photo: Dennis Jarvis)
Temple in Plaza A in Caracol, Belize (Photo: Dennis Jarvis)

Some of the amazing discoveries in Mexico are the Mayan ruins that pepper the Yucatan peninsula. Even though the Mexican pre-Colombian sites are very well taken care of, if you journey to Belize, you’ll see an extension of the Mayan landmarks. These southern sights are different in one particular aspect. At a few of the different sites, you can actually climb the ruins.

Check out Tikal to climb the tallest temple steps; or head over to Caracol, the largest Mayan ruins. Caracol is so large, it’s still being excavated and covers an area twice as large as current capital of Belize, Belize City.

The Beaches: US Virgin Islands

Trunk Bay, US Virgin Islands (Photo: Everett Carrico)
Trunk Bay, US Virgin Islands (Photo: Everett Carrico)

In Mexico, you’re bound to spend a lot of time at the beach. A country with two long coastlines boasts countless beach destinations such as Riviera Maya, Acapulco, Cabo, and so on; but there are other beaches only a few hours plane ride away that should be on every traveler’s bucket list.

Trunk Bay on St. John Island in the US Virgin Islands is paradise in beach form. The waters so pristine, you’ll want to bring a snorkel, and the beach (and the US Virgin Islands) remote enough to ensure you won’t be battling the hordes that go to places like Cancun and can relax and enjoy life in Island Time.

The Food: Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico's Mofongo (Photo: Jing)
Puerto Rico’s Mofongo (Photo: Jing)

Mexico has the taco. Puerto Rico has mofongo. This iconic dish is a staple of Puerto-Rican cuisine and should be on everyone’s itinerary when they visit Puerto Rico. Think of a dumpling where the dough is made from plantains and stuffed and cooked with savory meats.

Puerto Rican food doesn’t end there however. Pasteles are the tamales of Puerto Rico and, though hefty, are often served as side dishes. You can also find Lechon (roast suckling pig), Arroz con Gandules (their own take on rice and beans), and a whole litany of fried finger foods such as Cuchifritos and Frituras, among others.

The Resorts: the Dominican Republic

Club Med Punta Cana (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Club Med Punta Cana (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Invariably, one of the reasons people head to Mexico is to stay at all-inclusive resorts. These resorts bring the luxury of a pampered experience with off-site activities that will remind you why you came to Mexico in the first place.

The Dominican Republic is a fantastic alternative when looking elsewhere for a new resort. Not only does the Dominican Republic house a Club Med with its own Cirque de Soleil playscape (Creactive), but also a plethora of other resorts to vacation such as the Excellence Punta Cana and the Now Larimar Punta Cana. Most resorts either offer or can help book area excursions.

Nature: Costa Rica

Sloth in Costa Rica (Courtesy Visit Costa Rica)
Sloth in Costa Rica (Courtesy Visit Costa Rica)

Biodiversity is not exclusively a feature of Mexico. Though there are great opportunities to see incredible wildlife (from nature reserves to more developed areas like the aqua park Xel-Ha) in Mexico, Costa Rica is in many ways the place to go to explore the wilderness.

Due to a more a nascent tourist industry and lower levels of development, places like Tortuguero National Park, where you can watch several species of turtles nest and return to sea, and Corcovado National Park, where you can find all 4 species of the indigenous monkeys, will capture your attention. In fact, Corcovado is not only great for finding monkeys but you can also find Tapirs, sloths, anteaters, and, if you’re lucky, the jaguar. While there, make sure to wander the Cloud Forests.

Hawaiian Food Sucks? Think Again!

Over a plate of Pork Belly Bao, Lobster Shumai and a gigantic bowl of Ramen, we looked at each other in amazement. This is what it’s like to eat in Hawaii? My wife and I had been warned over and over. “Enjoy getting away, love the beaches, take advantage of the slower pace but don’t expect much of the food.” While not your typical Hawaiian food, Lucky Belly serves Asian Fusion Cuisine that you’ll only find on Hotel Street in the heart of Honolulu’s Chinatown. The hour-long wait is worth it.

Lucky Belly (Photo: Michelle Rae)

One of the distinctive features of the food culture in Hawaii is its unique combination of Polynesian, American and Asian cuisines (with some Portuguese influence). There are restaurants for Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Filipino cuisine but aspects of all those cuisines have been integrated into Hawaiian food such as the plate lunch, which takes the idea of the Japanese bento box, keeps the rice, but substitutes a scoop of Macaroni Salad and a protein for the rest.

In Waikiki, there is one restaurant that specializes in the plate lunches that is right up the street from the Honolulu Zoo and the Waikiki Beach. Rainbow Drive-In’s menu is dominated by the plate lunches where you can get BBQ Beef (highly recommended), Fried Chicken among other options with rice and Macaroni salad. After we were done clearing 75% of our food, we came down with what one local termed “Polynesian Paralysis”.

Rainbow Drive-In (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Rainbow Drive-In (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Another import that you’ll see in particular abundance on the North Shore of Oahu are shrimp trucks and stands. These places serve something special that is also found in the Philippines, Garlic & Butter Shrimp. On a lonely highway, halfway between Turtle Bay Resort and the Polynesian Culture Center sits Romy’s Kahuku Prawns and Shrimp. If you love your shellfish, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better place or a more authentic destination to indulge.

Romy’s in the North Shore (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Romy’s in the North Shore (Photo: Michelle Rae)

DSCF1815All the aforementioned restaurants are fantastic creations unique to Hawaii but to get something a little more traditional, one should start at Helena’s Hawaiian Food. From Pipikaula shortrib to Kalua Pig and Luau Chicken, picking a favorite is not easy. Other Hawaiian offerings include Poke, the closest approximation to which is Sashimi, and Poi, admittedly an acquired taste that will separate the tourists from the locals. Don’t forget to enjoy the complementary Haupia for desert. If you’re having Hawaiian food for the first time, skip the cheap fast food restaurants and start at this James Beard winning restaurant. Oh, and bring cash.

Helena’s (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Hawaii also offers some unique options for desert. The ubiquitous shaved ice can be found just about anywhere and comes with multiple flavors, such as most fruit flavors and the more exotic Li Hing Mui, and can be served with sweetened condensed milk or a scoop of ice cream. The other must have desert in Hawaii is the Malasada or Portuguese Donut. Leave room for Leonard’s Bakery at least once or five times during your trip. Unlike most donut shops, you will order off a menu, not a display, for the Malasadas that they’ll make fresh. When you bite into these little clouds of joy, you’ll notice that they’re a little less dense and softer than a regular donut. To top it all off or to start your day, skip Starbucks and head to Island Vintage Coffee for the coconut-flavored Island Latte. And while you’re there, grab some Kona Coffee to take home.

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Leonard’s (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Leonard’s (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Leonard’s (Photo: Michelle Rae)


Helena’s Hawaiian Food. 1240 N School St., Honolulu, HI 96817 |
Lucky Belly. 50 N Hotel St., Honolulu, HI 96817 |
Romy’s Kahuku Prawns & Shrimp. 56-781 Kamehameha Hwy, Kahuku, HI 96731 |
Rainbow Drive-In. 3308 Kanaina Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815 |
Island Vintage Coffee. Multiple locations around Oahu |
Leonard’s Bakery. 933 Kapahulu Ave, Honolulu, HI 96816 |


Hotel Recommendations

Park Shore Waikiki Hotel. 2586 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815 |
Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa. 92-1185 Ali’inui Dr, Kapolei, HI 96707 |
Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk. 201 Beachwalk St, Honolulu, HI 96815 |

Museum Island: The Heart of Berlin’s Cultural Collections

Berlin may not be the first destination culture hounds think of when looking to travel in Europe but there are ample reasons to reconsider Berlin as a travel destination. The 800 year-old city is home to such landmarks as the Brandenburg Gate, portions of the Berlin Wall as well as a world-class zoo (the most visited in Europe), and boasts a top class collection of museums.

At the center of Berlin’s network of museums lies Museum Island, a complex of 5 museums that take up the Northern half of an island that splits the river Spree near the center of the city. Below are the 5 museums that make up this ‘Louvre on the Spree’ and what you can find in each collection:

Altes Museum (Flickr: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra)
Altes Museum (Flickr: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra)

Of the 5 buildings that comprise Museum Island, Altes Museum is the oldest, having opened in 1830. Its façade may be the most impressive with its 18 columns harkening back to the grandeur of ancient Roman architecture. The original showcase for Berlin’s collections, it now houses the collection of classical antiquities including an ancient Greek collection found on the ground floor.

Bust of Nefertiti
Bust of Nefertiti

Neues Museum, finished in 1859, was the second of the museums to be built and was renovated in the ‘80s to incorporate damage from WWII into the preservation. The museum houses Stone Age and ancient Egyptian artifacts. One of the most famous pieces at the Neues Museum is the bust of Egyptian Queen Nefertiti.

Alte Nationalgalerie (Flickr: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra)
Alte Nationalgalerie (Flickr: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra)

The Alte Nationalgalerie, completed 11 years later in 1870, was built in the style of a temple, even covered in motifs of antiquity. The museum houses fine arts collection including Neoclassical, Romantic, French Impressionist (including some Manet and Monet) and early Modernist works.

Bode Museum (Flickr: Jim Woodward)
Bode Museum (Flickr: Jim Woodward)

The Bode Museum, opened in 1904, covers the island’s Northern tip. It has an impressive Byzantine and coin collection as well as Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic art, separated and organized geographically and chronologically. One of the more controversial pieces in the art history, the Flora Bust, is housed here. Thought originally to be a Leonardo da Vinci piece, there has been claim and counter-claim to its authenticity.

The Ishtar Gate at The Pergamon Museum (Flickr: Francisco Antunes)
The Ishtar Gate at The Pergamon Museum (Flickr: Francisco Antunes)

The Pergamon, built in 1930, might be the most impressive inside. Not only does it house the antiquity collection (including a fragment of Epic of Gilgamesh, the first story ever written down) but it also includes many rooms that could be considered pieces of themselves. These include the 2nd century BC Pergamon Altar, disassembled from Pergamon, Greece and for which the museum was built, as well as the Roman Market Gate of Miletus, the lapis lazuli covered Ishtar Gate of Babylon, and Mshatta Façade from an 8th century desert castle in Jordan.

You can gain entrance to any of the museums for a fee between 10 to 12 euros or 18 euros to get into all of them for the day. A 3 day “Museum Pass Berlin” can be purchased for 24 euros.

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